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Tiik Pollet
Tuesday, October 10, 2000
Washington, DC
Smithsonian, National Museum of African Art

A Good Audience

Dead friends are put to rest. Living friends turn away. Children cuss me out on street corners. Grocery clerks will not make eye contact. I face and overcome these everyday, challenges that build character. Yet, I am not strong. When I am strong I will know it because I will be able to view the work of an artist and stay focused. I will give good audience.

In the exhibition of “A Concrete Vision: Oshogbo Art in the 1960’s”, there is a tall concrete fence sculpted by Adebisi Akanj with figures of a man in a car, a man filling a car gas tank, and a child on a bicycle. It is like an enchanting melody, a divine tickle of song. Asiru Olatunde carved and hammered “The Woman with Four Breasts” into large silver aluminum sheets, an elegant dance of swirls and curls that seduce the adventurous eye. And, Twin Seven-Seven drew “The Anti-Bird Ghost in War with the Red Crews” and “The Lazy Hunters, and the Poisonous Wrestlers, Lizard, Ghost and Cobra”, both, ink on paper. His works deserve something clever written about them as well, however, I do not know what to say. I have lost my focus. It departed during the video, after the part where Twin Seven-Seven told the story of his birth.

Twin Seven-Seven tells us he was born in the seventh set of twins to a mother who bore six previous sets of twins and lost them all. He, then, became the only surviving twin of the seventh set because his twin died in birth. Is Twin Seven-Seven a good artist, a great artist, a genius or merely mediocre? I do not know. I am rendered speechless and unable to focus solely on his art.

“Twin Seven-Seven, an extremely and particularly special child of the Gods, destined to live as an artist.”

I cannot venture an opinion, struck dumb with his story, imagining his struggle, pride and pain. I think of myself, having also suffered great pain and unusual circumstance. These losses, however, are ordinary and not documented on video. How little attention I give my own art. My commitment and passion wane consistently to sabotage any success. In a life full of adventure, the titles for my art and writings are often mundane, bearing no ghosts, cobras, wrestling spiders and anti-birds. I am sad, inspired, and envious all at the same time and the self-indulgent nature of this deliberation shames and nags at me like a pesky cockroach.

Who is in control here? Though, I have unwittingly compared my life to Twin Seven-Seven’s, I have, also, clearly chosen to see myself as a dreadful failure. Did I, then, willfully elevate Twin Seven-Seven into an impossibly high stature because of the story he has suffered and survived? Or, was I led there? I would buy the art of Twin Seven-Seven just so I might be touched by the luck of his story, and not because I love the work. Would I make such a purchase without having heard his story? I might consider the expense too dear. Some would buy a VanGogh just because he cut off an ear. Am I the only person who’s focus has been derailed? Are others wandering, equally distracted after hearing the story of Twin Seven-Seven, unable to canvass the merit and quality of his work? Is there a politic at play? Did the production team of this video understand the effect his story would have and intentionally lead us astray from the work? From forming a judgement, a criticism, an opinion?

Exhibitions come in all sizes, shapes, styles and forms. They are multi-media, multi-dimensional and multi-talented. Art gets an audience and audiences observe, interpret, evaluate and establish merit. This takes focus and maintaining focus takes strength. I may be a puppet led to fuzzy thought, or just a fuzzy puppy sniffing around the yard. Either way, l have let myself down. Whether it is just human nature to lose ground or the nature of a powerful story to give pause, I did not give good audience to the work of Twin Seven-Seven. Unable to observe the work of this artist without losing focus, I am not strong.

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